Heart failure: when the heart fails

What is the heart?

The heart is an organ that pumps blood to circulate continuously through our circulatory system, made up of arteries and veins. The blood is responsible for carrying the oxygen and nutrients necessary for life to all our cells.

In each heartbeat, the heart expels a certain amount of blood towards the aorta artery, the thickest one, and through successive branches that leave it, the blood reaches the whole organism. When the blood has given up oxygen and nutrients (proteins and sugar) to the body’s cells, it is collected in the veins, which return it back to the heart.

In this way, the heart is a pump system, which, connected to the blood vessels (arteries and veins), circulates the blood in one direction only. For this to happen, the heart requires a series of anatomical elements with specific functions (Figure 1):

  • Myocardium: these are the cells that make up the cardiac muscle, whose function is to pump blood.
  • Cardiac valves: these are composed of the aortic, pulmonary, mitral and tricuspid valves. Their function is to keep the blood flowing in only one direction, that is to say, that the blood does not return to the cardiac cavities through which it has already passed.
  • Coronary arteries: the heart, like all muscles, needs oxygen and nutrients for its functioning, which it obtains, like the rest of the body, from the blood. This blood reaches it through the coronary arteries that come from the aorta. The coronary arteries run all around the outer surface of the heart, forming a sort of crown, from which branches branch out to carry blood to the entire heart muscle.
  • Aorta artery: it is the largest blood vessel in our body, and through it, in each heartbeat, the heart carries oxygenated blood to each of the organs.
  • Pericardium: is a fibrous membrane that surrounds the heart and extends to the roots of the great vessels. Its mission is to cover the heart, separating it from neighboring structures, so that it does not suffer any type of injury.
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What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a disease that causes the heart to not pump blood to the body as it should. This means that the blood cannot carry enough oxygen and nutrients to the different organs to function properly (Figure 2).

However, even though it is called failure, it does not mean that the heart is about to stop working. It means instead that the heart has difficulty meeting the needs of the body (especially during times of activity).

It is a chronic disease for which there is no cure but by making changes in your lifestyle and treating it properly you can achieve a significant improvement in your quality of life, as well as prolonging it.

Heart failure can manifest itself at any age but its frequency clearly increases at older ages. About 1% of people under 65 years of age have heart failure, but 7% of people between 75 and 84 years of age have heart failure, a percentage that rises to 15% in people over 85 years of age. In fact, heart failure is the most frequent cause of hospitalization in people over 65 years of age.